This Week in Petroleum History, September 17 – September 23


September 18, 1855 – First U.S. Oil Company reorganizes

In need of more capital, George Bissell and partner Jonathan Eveleth reorganized their Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, the first oil company in the United States, to attract investors for drilling a well in search of oil.

The businessmen re-incorporated the New York-based Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company (established in 1854 to explore oil seeps near Titusville) into their new exploration venture, the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut.

Given the difficult economic times of the mid-1800s, capital markets of New York City had shown little interest in drilling a well for oil, seen as too highly speculative. The new company hired a former railroad conductor, Edwin Drake, who overcame many financial and technical obstacles to complete the first American oil well in 1859.

September 18, 1948 – Oil discovered in Utah

petroleum history september

Begun in 1948 in the giant Uinta Basin, Utah’s petroleum industry continues today thanks to reserves of coalbed methane gas.

J.L. “Mike” Dougan, president of the Equity Oil Company, completed the state’s first commercial oil well in the Uinta Basin. Dougan’s small company beat out larger and better financed competitors, including Standard Oil of California, Pure Oil, Continental, and Union Oil Company. His oil discovery launched a deep-drilling boom in Utah.

Unlike the earlier attempts, Dougan drilled beyond the typical depth of 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet. His Ashley Valley No. 1 well, 10 miles southeast of Vernal, produced 300 barrels of oil a day from about 4,000 feet. Production would soon average almost one million barrels a year from 30 wells.

Following Dougan’s success, exploration companies began drilling up to 8,000 feet and even deeper into the Uinta Basin. In recent years, thanks to horizontal drilling and other technologies, the basin is estimated to hold up to 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in a region covering 15,000 square miles. Learn more in First Utah Oil Well.

September 21, 1901 – First Louisiana Oil Well

petroleum history september

Mrs. Scott Heywood unveiled a marker as part of the Louisiana Golden Oil Jubilee in 1951. Times Picayune (New Orleans) image courtesy Calcasieu Parish Public Library.

Just nine months after the January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop, Texas, another historic oilfield was revealed 90 miles east in Louisiana.

W. Scott Heywood – already successful thanks to wells drilled at Spindletop Hill – completed a well that produced 7,000 barrels of oil a day well on the Jules Clements farm six miles northeast of Jennings.

Drilled in a rice field, the Jules Clements No. 1 well found oil at a depth of 1,700 feet. “The well flowed sand and oil for seven hours and covered Clement’s rice field with a lake of oil and sand, ruining several acres of rice,” noted the Jennings Daily News. The discovery led to the state’s first commercial oil production.

Heywood’s well opened the prolific Jennings field, which he developed by securing leases and building pipelines and storage tanks. As the Jennings oilfield reached peak production of more than nine million barrels in 1906, oil discoveries in northern Louisiana continued to expand the state’s new petroleum industry. Learn more in First Louisiana Oil Well.

September 23, 1918 – Start of Wood River Refinery

petroleum history september

The Wood River Refinery History Museum is in front of the Phillips 66 Refinery southeast of Roxana, Illinois.

Roxana Petroleum Company’s new Wood River (Illinois) facility began refining crude oil. It processed more than two million barrels of oil from Oklahoma oilfields in its first year of operation.

Roxana Petroleum Company was the 1912 creation of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which founded the American Gasoline Company in Seattle to distribute gasoline on the West Coast. Roxana Petroleum was established in Oklahoma to produce the state’s high quality oil to be refined at the Wood River plant.

Today the largest refinery owned by Phillips 66, Wood River processes 314,000 barrels of oil a day. Visit the Wood River Refinery History Museum.

September 23, 1933 – Standard Oil of California Geologists visit Saudi Arabia

Invited by Saudi Arabian King Abdel Aziz, geologists from Standard Oil Company of California arrived at the Port of Jubail in the Persian Gulf. Searching the desert for petroleum and “kindred bituminous matter,” they discovered a giant oilfield. This early partnership between Saudi Arabia and Standard Oil became known as the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), later joined by Texaco and other major U.S. companies.

September 23, 1947 – New Patent for “Hortonspheres”

september petroleum history

Hortonspheres were invented by Chicago bridge builder Horace E. Horton.

The Chicago Bridge & Iron Company (CB&I) received a patent for improvements to a spherical storage vessel invented by the company’s founder in the 1920s. Designed to store natural gas, butane, propane and other volatile petroleum products, the efficient sphere was among the great innovations to come to the petroleum industry.

First erected in 1923, CB&I named the “Hortonspheres” after engineer Horace E. Horton, who had started the company in 1889 to build bridges across the Mississippi River. The company built its first elevated water tank in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1892.

“The elevated steel plate tank was the first built with a full hemispherical bottom, one of the company’s first technical innovations,” notes a CB&I historian. In 1923 at Port Arthur, Texas, the company (which merged into McDermott International in May 2018) built “the world’s first field-erected spherical pressure vessel.” Learn more in Horace Horton’s Spheres.



Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact [email protected] for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

The post This Week in Petroleum History, September 17 – September 23 appeared first on American Oil & Gas Historical Society.

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This Week in Petroleum History, September 10 to September 16


September 10, 1879 – Merger of Two California Companies will lead to Chevron

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The Pacific Coast Oil Company’s logo included derricks at Pico Canyon, site of California’s first commercial oil discovery. Photo courtesy of Chevron.

Chevron began in 1879 when the Pacific Coast Oil Company acquired the California Star Oil Works, which a few months before had made the first major oil discovery in California.

As the future major oil company grew over the century, its retail outlets added dozens of service station logos – including Standard Oil Company of California’s chevron, the Texaco red star, the orange disc of Gulf Oil, and the Unocal “76” logo.

“We trace our beginnings to an 1876 oil discovery at Pico Canyon, north of Los Angeles, which led to the formation of the Pacific Coast Oil Company,” notes Chevron, which acquired Gulf Oil in 1984 and merged with Texaco in 2001. Learn more West Coast oil history in First California Oil Well.

September 10, 1969 – Second Test of Nuclear Fracking of Natural Gas Well

petroleum history september

Experimental nuclear fracturing of natural gas wells took place as late as 1973. Photo courtesy Denver Public Library.

A 40-kiloton nuclear device was detonated underground about eight miles southeast of present-day Parachute, Garfield County, Colorado. Project Rulison was the second of three natural gas reservoir stimulation tests that were part of Operation Plowshare, a government program to study the uses of nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes. The first, Project Gasbuggy, was a December 1967 detonation of 29 kilotons in a New Mexico natural gas well. The third detonation took place in Rio Blanco County, Colorado, in 1973. All of the tests produced unusable radioactive natural gas.

September 11, 1866 – Distilling Kerosene in Vacuum leads to Mobil Oil

petroleum history September

Beginning in 1866, “Ewing’s Patent Vacuum Oil” preserved and lubricated leather harnesses.

Matthew Ewing, a carpenter, patented a new method for distilling kerosene in a vacuum to produce lubricants. His post-Civil War invention would lead to Mobil Oil. Three weeks after his patent, Ewing and partner Hiram Everest founded Vacuum Oil Company in Rochester, New York. Their first product was “Ewing’s Patent Vacuum Oil,” a leather conditioner. After Ewing left the partnership, Everest found success with an improved Vacuum Harness Oil. He distributed the lubricant in square containers previously used for canned oysters.

In 1880, Everest sold 75 percent of Vacuum Oil to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. More than half a century later, the vacuum-produced lubricants company evolved into Socony Mobil and then into Mobil Oil before becoming ExxonMobil in a 1999 merger. Also see Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.

September 12, 1866 – First Texas Oil Well

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Lyne Taliaferro Barret in 1859 leased 280 acres east of Nacogdoches, Texas, in an area known for oil seeps.

The Texas petroleum industry was born a few miles east of Nacogdoches when Lyne Taliaferro Barret and his Melrose Petroleum Oil Company completed the Lone Star State’s first commercial oil well.

The Confederate Army veteran’s No. 1 Isaac C. Skillern well – drilled in an area known as Oil Springs – found the newly prized resource at a depth of 106 feet. Barret’s well yielded a modest ten barrels per day; limited access to markets soon led to his company’s failure. The field laid dormant for nearly two decades – until other exploration companies found oil nearby.

The Nacogdoches field was the oldest producing field in Texas for many decades. Some of the field’s wells produced well into the 1950s. Learn more in First Lone Star Discovery  and visit Nacogdoches, “the oldest town in Texas.”

September 13, 1957 – First Hawaiian Refinery

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Millions of barrels of oil are delivered by tanker each year to Hawaii and refined into gasoline, asphalt, diesel and more.

Standard Oil of California announced it would build the Territory of Hawaii’s first oil refinery, eight miles west of Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu. According to a 1959 Popular Mechanics article, Standard Oil originally planned to import oil “by means of an unusual undersea submarine cable.”

September 13, 1975 – President Ford dedicates Petroleum Museum

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President Gerald Ford spoke at the Petroleum Museum’s 1975 opening in Midland, Texas. Photo courtesy Petroleum Museum.

President Gerald R. Ford addressed 400 guests at the 1975 dedication ceremony of the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, Library and Hall of Fame in Midland, Texas.

After touring the new museum, the president was presented with a bronze sculpture by artist Lester Fox called “Dressing the Bit.” The presentation was made by Chairman Emil Rassman.

The museum,  established by 500 community leaders under the leadership of George Abell, today includes extensive geological, technical and cultural exhibits – and a rare collection of historic Chaparral racing cars.

September 14, 1871 – President Grant visits Oil City

During a tour of the booming oil region of northwestern Pennsylvania, President Ulysses S. Grant visited Titusville, Petroleum Center, and Oil City to learn more about the new petroleum industry, which began in  August 1859 with first U.S. commercial oil discovery. Grant ordered Pennsylvania Avenue paved with asphalt in 1875.

September 14, 1929 – West Texas Well will set Record

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The Yates field has been producing continuously since the 1920s. Pecos County alone covers more than 4,700 square miles. Photo courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.

A West Texas well struck oil at a depth of 1,070 feet and produced an astounding 204,672 barrels of oil a day- the most productive well ever drilled up until that time. The Yates 30-A well initially produced 8,528 barrels of oil per hour. The Pecos County well was just a few hundred yards from the 1926 discovery well of the Yates field, the Ira G. Yates 1-A.

First discovered in 1920, the Permian Basin’s huge size had been revealed in 1923 by the Santa Rita No. 1 well. The Yates 30-A well, operated by Transcontinental Oil and the Mid-Kansas Oil and Gas Company (then a subsidiary of Ohio Oil, now Marathon) helped bring great prosperity to Midland, Odessa, and new oil towns like Iraan (see Alley Oop’s Oil Roots). In 1985 the Yates field produced its billionth barrel of oil.

September 14, 1960 – OPEC founded in Baghdad

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was created at the Baghdad Conference by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

The five founding members were later joined by nine others. Headquarters was in Geneva, Switzerland, prior to moving to Vienna, Austria, in September 1965.

OPEC’s objective “is to coordinate and unify petroleum policies among Member Countries, in order to secure fair and stable prices for petroleum producers; an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consuming nations; and a fair return on capital to those investing in the industry.”

September 15, 1886 – Gas Boom arrives in Indiana

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Believing they had unlimited natural gas from the Trenton field, Indiana cities erected “flambeaux” arches to attract industries.

After Ohio natural gas discoveries excited speculation in Indiana, investors established the Eaton Mining & Gas Co. in February 1886. The company’s first well found gas at a depth of 920 feet on September 15. With a two-inch pipe extended 18 feet above the derrick, the ignited gas produced a flame reportedly visible in Muncie 10 miles away. The well had tapped a 5,120-square-mile oil and natural gas field.

The Trenton field – the largest gas field known in the world at the time – spread over 17 Indiana counties and launched the Indiana Natural Gas Boom. Within three years, more than 200 companies were exploring, drilling, and selling natural gas. Industrialist Andrew Carnegie later proclaimed gas replaced 10,000 tons of coal a day for making steel.


Recommended Reading: Rochester Through Time, America Through Time (2015); Nacogdoches, Images of America (2009); Midland, Images of America (2010); Yates: A family, A Company, and Some Cornfield Geology (2000); Desert Kingdoms to Global Powers: The Rise of the Arab Gulf Hardcover (2016); Natural Gas for the Hoosier State (1995).



The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact [email protected] © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

The post This Week in Petroleum History, September 10 to September 16 appeared first on American Oil & Gas Historical Society.

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This Week in Petroleum History, September 3 to September 9


September 4, 1841 – Patent for Percussion Drilling Technology 

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Drill jar technology improved efficiency for drilling brine wells – and later, oil wells.

Early drilling technology advanced when William Morris patented a “Rock Drill Jar.” It was an innovation he had been experimenting with while drilling brine wells.

“The mechanical success of cable tool drilling has greatly depended on a device called jars, invented by a spring pole driller,” explained oil historian Samuel Pees in 2004, adding that Morris used jars to drill  salt wells as early as the 1830s. “Little is known about Morris except for his invention and that he listed Kanawha County (now in West Virginia) as his address. Later, using jars, the cable tool system was able to efficiently meet the demands of drilling wells for oil.”

Using experience as a brine well driller, Morris patented his device, describing it as a “manner of uniting augers to sinkers for boring artesian well.” According to Pees, the upper link of the jars worked with the overlying sinker bar to perform an important function: causing the lower link to strike a strong blow to the underlying auger stem on the upstroke. This upward blow could dislodge the bit if it was stuck in the rock formation.

The Morris telescoping link apparatus increased efficiency of percussion drilling because it could “slacken off as the bit hit bottom and pick up the bit with a snap on the upstroke.” Cable-tool drilling technology evolved rapidly as drillers improved upon Morris’ patented jars. Learn more in Making Hole – Drilling Technology.

September 5, 1885 – Birth of the “Filling Station” Pump

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The 1916 Bowser gas pump included a “clock face” dial to measure pumped gas. Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution.

The modern gasoline-pump design was invented by Sylvanus F. (Freelove) Bowser, who sold his first pump to a  grocery store owner in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Designed to safely dispense kerosene as well as “burning fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum,” the pump’s container held 42 gallons. The pump included marble valves, a wooden plunger, and a simple, upright faucet.

With the pump’s popular success at Jake Gumper’s grocery store, Bowser formed the S.F. Bowser Company and patented his invention in 1887. Within a decade – as the automobile’s popularity grew – Bowser’s company adapted and became hugely successful. By 1905 (the same year many claim the first gasoline station was built in St. Louis, Missouri) the S.F. Bowser “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump” became known to motorists as a filling station.

The Bowser gas pump included a square metal tank and wooden cabinet equipped with a hand-levered suction pump and a hose attachment for dispensing gas directly into the automobile tank. As other pump manufacturers arrived, Fort Wayne became known as the “Gas Pump Capital of the World.” Learn more in First Gas Pump and Service Station.

September 5, 1927 – Schlumberger Brothers test Electric Logging Tool

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Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger tested their electronic logging tool in 1927, one year after founding the world’s first well logging company. Photo and image courtesy Schlumberger Ltd.

petroleum history september

Conrad Schlumberger, using very basic equipment, in 1912 recorded the first map of equipotential curves near Caen, France.

An electric, downhole well-logging tool was first applied near Pechelbronn, France. Brothers Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger had modified their surface system to operate vertically in a well.

Conrad Schlumberger conceived the idea of using electrical measurements to map subsurface rock formations as early as 1912. After developing an electrical four-probe surface approach for mineral exploration, the brothers created the electric downhole well log.

Lowering their new tool into a well, they recorded a single lateral-resistivity curve at fixed points in the well’s borehole and graphically plotted the results against depth – creating a well log of geologic formations. Changes in subsurface resistance readings showed variations and possible oil and natural gas producing areas. This technology breakthrough made Schlumberger the world’s first well logging oilfield service company.

September 5, 1939 – First Mississippi Oil Well

Fred Mellen was elected president of the Mississippi Geological Survey in 1946.

Union Producing Company completed its Woodson No. 1, the first commercial oil well in Mississippi. Drilled at Tinsley, a few miles southwest of Yazoo City, the well produced 235 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 4,560 feet from a sandstone later named the Woodruff Sand. Field work by a young state geologist, Frederic Mellen, had led to the Tinsley oilfield discovery.

Mellen, working on a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in February, found indications of a salt dome structure similar to the giant Spindletop field of 1901 in Texas. The 28-year-old geologist urged more seismographic testing. Houston-based Union Producing Company quickly leased about 2,500 acres at Perry Creek after the Mississippi State Geological Survey issued a press release about Mellen’s report.

Mellen’s original WPA project had been a clay and minerals survey, “to locate a suitable clay to mold cereal bowls and other utensils for an underprivileged children’s nursery.” Instead, he launched Mississippi’s oil industry. By June 1944, Mississippi had almost 400 wells in eight producing oilfields. Learn more in First Mississippi Oil Well.

September 7, 1917 – Oil Legacy of Governor Hogg

After drilling 20 dry holes, the Tyndall-Wyoming Oil Company completed the No. 1 Hogg well  50 miles south of Houston. Four months later a second well produced about 600 barrels a day. These wells ended a succession of dry holes dating back to 1901 – when former Texas Governor Jim Hogg paid $30,000 for the lease. Governor Hogg had died 11 years before the two wells revealed the giant West Columbia oilfield. Fortunately for his family, he stipulated in his will the mineral rights should not be sold for 15 years after his death. The field would yield about 120,000 barrels of oil in 1918 alone.

September 7, 1923 – California Oilfield discovered at Dominguez Hills

petroleum history September

Maj. Frederick R. Burnham in his British Army uniform, 1901.

Maj. Frederick Russell Burnham discovered oil in Dominguez Hills, an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, California, in 1923. His well produced about 1,200 barrels of oil a day from about 4,000 feet deep. Maj. Burnham, a decorated soldier for both the U.S. and British armies, was once known as “King of the Scouts.” His Burnham Exploration Company and partner Union Oil Company of California opened the Dominguez Hills oilfield, “a two-square mile, two-mile deep stack of eight producing zones.”

The region was named for a Spanish soldier who in 1784 received a land grant for grazing cattle. “But family fortunes truly took off with discovery of oil in the 1920s, first in the Torrance area and then, most resoundingly, on Dominguez Hill itself,” explains the California State University. By 1933 Burnham Exploration and Union Oil had paid more than $10 million to stockholders. Learn more California history in Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields.

September 9, 1928 – Oklahoma regulates Oil Production

For the first time, a state regulatory body issued an order that governed oil production for the entire state. The move was an effort to control excessive production from many newly discovered Oklahoma oilfields, including several giants of the Seminole oil boom.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission set the state’s oil production limit to 700,000 barrels daily and limited production of wildcat wells to 100 barrels of oil a day. The commission allocated 425,000 barrels of oil a day for new fields like Seminole (the premier high-gravity oilfield) and 275,000 barrels of oil a day for older fields.


Recommended Reading: Drilling Technology in Nontechnical Language (2012); Schlumberger: The History of a Technique (1978); An Illustrated Guide to Gas Pumps (2008); California State University, Dominguez Hills (2010); Pico Canyon Chronicles: The Story of California’s Pioneer Oil Field (1985); Atoms for Peace and War 1953-1961 (2017).



Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells and Volunteer Contributing Editor Kris Wells call in on the last Wednesday of each month. Support our energy education mission with a contribution today. Contact [email protected] for membership information. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

The post This Week in Petroleum History, September 3 to September 9 appeared first on American Oil & Gas Historical Society.

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